Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling, by Charles Godfrey Leland, , at sacred-texts.com
GYPSY WITCHCRAFT—THE MAGICAL POWER WHICH IS INNATE IN ALL MEN AND WOMEN—HOW IT MAY BE CULTIVATED AND DEVELOPED—THE PRINCIPLES OF FORTUNE-TELLING
WOMEN excel in the manifestation of certain qualities which are associated with mystery and suggestive of occult influences or power. Perhaps the reader will pardon me if I devote a few pages to what I conceive to be, to a certain degree, an explanation of this magic; though, indeed, it may be justly said that in so doing We only pass the old boundary of "spiritual" sorcery to find ourselves in the wider wonderland of Science.
Whether it be the action of a faculty, a correlative action of physical
functions, or a separate soul in us, the fact is indisputable that when our ordinary waking consciousness or will goes to sleep or rest, or even dozes, that instant an entirely different power takes command of the myriad forces of memory, and proceeds to make them act, wheel, evolute, and perform dramatic tricks, such as the Common Sense of our daily life would never admit. This power we call the Dream, but it is more than that. It can do more than make Us, or Me, or the Waking Will, believe that we are passing through fantastic scenes. It can remember or revive the memory of things forgotten by us; it can, when he is making no effort, solve for the geometrician problems which are far beyond his waking capacity—it sometimes teaches the musician airs such as he could not compose. That is to say, within ourself there dwells a more mysterious Me, in some respects a more gifted Self. There is not the least reason, in the present state of Science, to assume that this is—either a "spiritual" being or an action of material forces. It puzzled WIGAN as the dual action of the brain; and a great light is thrown on it by the "Physiology" of CARPENTER and the "Memory" of DAVID KAY (one of the most remarkable works of modern times), as well as in the "Psycho Therapeutics" of Dr. TUCKEY.
This power, therefore, knows things hidden from Me, and can do what I cannot. Let no one incautiously exclaim here that what this really means is, that I possess higher accomplishments which I do not use. The power often actually acts against Me—it plays at fast and loose with me—it tries to deceive me, and when it finds that in dreams I have detected a blunder in the plot of the play which it is spinning, it brings the whole abruptly to an end with the convulsion of a nightmare, or by letting the curtain fall with a crash, and—scena est deserta! am awake! And then "how the phantoms flee—how the dreams depart" as WESTWOOD writes. With what wonderful speed all is washed away clean from the blackboard! Our waking visions do not fly like this. But—be it noted, for it is positively true—the evanescence of our dreams is, in a vast majority of instances, exactly in proportion to their folly.
I am coming to my witchcraft directly, but I pray you have patience with my proeme. I wish to narrate a dream which I had a few years ago (September 5, 1887), which had an intensity of reality. Dreams, you know, reader, vary from rainbow mist to London fog, and so on to clouds, or mud. This one was hard as marble in comparison to most. A few days previously I had written a letter to a friend, in which I had discussed this subject of the dual-Me, and it seemed as if the Dream were called forth by it in answer.
I thought I was in my bed—a German one, for I was in Homburg vor der Höhe—yet I did not know exactly where I was. I at once perceived the anomaly, and was in great distress to know whether I was awake or in a dream. I seemed to be an invalid. I realized, or knew, that in another bed near mine was a nurse or attendant. I begged her to tell me if I were dreaming, and to awake me if I were. She tried to persuade me that I was in my ordinary life, awake. I was not at all satisfied. I arose and went into the street. There I met with two or three common men. I felt great hesitation in addressing them on such a singular subject, but told them that I was in distress because I feared that I was in a dream, and begged them to shake or squeeze my arm. I forget whether they complied, but I went on and met three gentlemen, to whom I made the same request. One at once promptly declared that he remembered me, saying that we had met before in Cincinnatti. He pressed my arm, but it had no effect. I began to believe that I was really awake. I returned to the room. I heard a child speaking or murmuring by the nurse. I asked her again to shake my hand. This she did so forcibly that I was now perfectly convinced that it was no dream. And the instant it came home to me that it was a reality, there seized me the thrill or feeling as of a coming nightmare—and I awoke!
Reviewing my dream when awake, I had the deepest feeling of having been joué or played with by a master-mocker. I recalled that, when I rose in my night-robe from the bed, I did not dress—and yet found
myself fully dressed when in the street. Then I remembered that when I returned to America, in 1879, I was in great apprehension lest I should have trouble and delay with our sixteen trunks, because there was under my charge a lady who was dying. To my great relief and amazement, the officer whose duty it was to search claimed me as an old acquaintance, who had met me and T. BUCHANAN READ, the poet, in Cincinnatti in 1864, But what impressed me most of all, at once, was that the whole was caused by, and was a keen and subtle mockery of my comments in my letter, of the other Ego, and of its sarcastic power. For I had been led, step by step, through the extremest doubt, to a full conviction of being awake, and then dismissed, as it were, with a snap or sneer into wakefulness itself
Now this Dream Artist is, to judge by his works, a very different kind of a person from Me. We are not sympathetic, and herein lies a great and serious subject of study. "Dreams," says a writer, "are the novels which we read when we are fast asleep," and, at the risk of receiving punishment, I declare that my writer belongs to a school of novelists with which I have no feelings in common. If, as everybody assumes, it is always I who dream—only using other material—how is it that I always invariably disagree with, thwart, contradict, vex, and mock myself? I had rather be hanged and be done with it, before I would wrong my worst enemy with such pitiful, silly, degrading dreams and long-forgotten follies, as I am called on to endure. If this alter-ego were a lunatic, he could not be a more thoroughly uncongenial inmate of my brain than he often is. Our characters are radically different. Why has he a mind so utterly unlike mine? His tastes, his thoughts, dispositions, and petty peculiarities are all unlike mine. If we belonged to the same club, I should never talk with him.
Now we are coming to our Witchcraft. This alter-ego does not confine himself to dreams. A lunatic is a man who dreams wide-awake. He has lost his will or the controlling power resulting from the just co-relation of brain forces. Then the stored-up images stray out and blend. I have dreamed of telling or seeing things and of acting them at the same time. A fish and a watch and a man may seem to be the same thing at once in a dream, as
they often are to a waking lunatic. A poet is a man who dreams wide-awake; but he can guide his dreams or imaginings to symmetrical form, and to a logical conclusion or coherence. With the painter and sculptor it is the same. When the alter-ego works harmoniously with the waking will, we call it Imagination.
But when the alter-ego draws decidedly on latent forces, or powers unknown to the waking Me, I am amazed, He does it often enough, that is certain. Then we have Mystery. And it is out of this that men have drawn the conclusion that they have two or three souls—an astral spirit, a power of prophecy, the art of leaving the body, and the entire machinery of occultism. Physiology is probably on the high road to explain it all, but as yet it is not explained.
Meanwhile it steals into our waking life in many ways. It comes in emotions, presentiments, harp tones, mystical conceptions, and minglings of images or ideas, and incomprehensible deductions, which are sometimes, of course, prophetic. It has nothing in common with common sense; therefore it is to some un-common sense, or to others non-sense. Sometimes it is one or the other. Agreeable sensations and their harmony become the Beautiful. These blend and produce a general æsthetic sense. It becomes mystical, and is easily worked on by the alter-ego. The most inspired passages of every poet on the beauty of Nature betray clearly the influence and hidden power of the Dream in waking life. SHELLEY, WORDSWORTH, KEATS, BYRON, were all waking dreamers de la première force.
He who has heard an Æolian harp play—and I have heard the seven of JUSTINUS KERNER in the old castle of Weibertreu when I was his guest—if he be a "tone-artist," has often caught series of chords which were almost melodies. This music has the same relation to definite composition which the dream has to waking common sense. There are two things which I do not understand. One is, why composers of music make so little use of the suggestive Æolian harp; the second is, why decorative designers never employ the folding mirror 1 to produce designs. The one is an exact counterpart of
the other, and both are capable of revealing inexhaustible harmonies, for both are deeply in accordance with the evolving processes of Nature.
The poetic or artistic faculty is, we therefore assume, the action on the myriad cells of memory by a strange—sometimes apparently involuntary—fantastic power, which is at the same time higher and lower than common sense or waking consciousness. Every image which man has received from sensation lies stored away in a cell, and is, in fact, a memory by itself. There is a faculty of association or sympathy by which groups of these images are called up, and there is perception which receives them, more or less vividly, like a photographic plate. When awake, Will, or coherent Common Sense, regulates all this machinery. When asleep, the Images seem to steal out and blend and frisk about by themselves in quaint dances, guided apparently by a kind of power whom I have conventionally called the alter-ego. This power throws open brain or memory-cells, which waking Common Sense has forgotten; in their chaotic or fantastic searches and mingling they produce poetry; they may chance on prophecy, for if our waking self had at command the immense latent knowledge in which these elves revel, it would detect sequences and know to what many things would lead, now unto us all unknown.
I once knew a nobleman who inherited in Italy a palace which he had never seen. There were in it three hundred rooms, and it had belonged to a family which had for six hundred years collected and handed down to their descendants every kind of object, as if they had been magpies or ravens. The heir, as a grave, earnest man, only concerned himself with the armoury and picture gallery and principal rooms. But his young daughter Bertha ranged all over the place and made hundreds of the most singular discoveries. One day she came to me very much delighted, She had found an obscure room or garret, in which there were ranged about on shelves, "sitting up and all. looking at her," several hundred old dolls and marionettes. For two hundred years or more the family had kept its old dolls. In this case the father was the waking reason, the rooms the brain cells, and Bertha the sprite who ranges over all and knows where to find forgotten images in,
store. Many of those whom we meet in dreams are like the ghosts of dolls.
This is the only true Night side of Nature, but its shadows and dusky twilight, and strangely-hued chiaroscuros and long pauses of gloom, come constantly into the sunlight of our waking life. Some lives have too much of it, some too little. Some receive it in coarse and evil forms, as lunatics, and sufferers from mania à potu; some canny people—happy Scotchmen, for instance—succeed in banishing it from life as nearly as is possible for a human being to do. Now to speak clearly, and to recapitulate distinctly, I set forth the following propositions:—
I. We have a conscious will which, whether it be an independent incomprehensible spirit, or simply the correlative result or action of all our other brain powers, exists, and during our waking hours directs our thoughts and acts. While it is at work in the world with social influences, its general tendency is towards average common sense.
II. This conscious will sleeps when we sleep. But the collective images which form memory, each being indeed a separate memory, as an aggregate of bees' cells form a comb, are always ready to come forth, just as honey is always sweet, limpid, and fluid. There is between them all an associative faculty, or a strange and singular power, which begins to act when the will sleeps. Whether it be also an independent Self which plays capriciously while conscious will sleeps, or a result of correlated forces, it is not as yet possible to determine. What we know is, that it calls forth the images by association, and in a fantastic, capricious manner, imitates and combines what we have experienced, or read, or thought, during our waking hours.
III. Our waking will can only realize or act on such images as it has kept familiarly before it, or such as have been so often recalled that they recur spontaneously. But all the treasures of memory seem to be available to the dream ruler, and with them a loose facile power of grouping them into kaleidoscopic combinations. Thus, if one could imagine a kaleidoscope which at every turn made varied groups of human or other figures in different attitudes, with changing scenery; and then suppose this to be turned round
by some simple vital or mechanical action, he would have an idea of the action of dreams. It is probable that the radical function of the dream-power is to prevent images from becoming utterly forgotten or rusty; and by exercising the faculty of facile or chance combination to keep awake in man originality and creativeness. For it is almost certain that, but for the intrusion of this faculty into our waking thoughts, man would become a mere animal, without an idea beyond the joint common appetites, instincts, and emotions of the lowest of his kind.
IV. The dream-power intrudes more or less into all waking life. Then it acts, though irregularly, yet in harmony, with conscious will. When it is powerful and has great skill in forming associations of images—and by images I mean, with Kay, "ideas"—and can also submit these to waking wisdom, the result is poetry or art. In recalling strange, beautiful images, and in imagining scenes, we partly lapse into dreaming; in fact, we do dream, though conscious will sits by us all the time and even aids our work. And most poets and artists, and many inventors, will testify that, while imagining or inventing, they abstract the "mind" from the world and common-place events, seek calm and quiet, and try to get into a "brown study," which is a waking dream. That is to say, a condition which is in some respects analogous to sleep is necessary to stimulate the flow and combination of images. This brown study is a state of mind in which images flow and blend and form new shapes far more easily than when Will and Reason have the upper hand. For they act only in a conventional beaten track, and deal only with the known and familiar.
V. Magic is the production of that which is not measured by the capacity of the conscious working will. The dream spirit, or that which knows all our memories, and which combines, blends, separates, scatters. unites, confuses, intensifies, beautifies, or makes terrible all the persons, scenes, acts, events, tragedies, or comedies known to us, can, if it pleases, by instantaneous reasoning or intuition, perceive what waking common sense does not. We visit a sick man, and the dream spirit, out of the inexhaustible hoards of memory aided by association, which results in subtle, occult
reasoning, perceives that the patient will die in a certain time, and this result is served up in a dramatic dream. The amount of miracles, mysteries, apparitions, omens, and theurgia which the action of these latent faculties cause, or seem to cause, is simply illimitable, for no man knows how much he knows. Few, indeed, are the ordinary well-educated Europeans of average experience of life, whose memories are not inexhaustible encyclopædias, and whose intellects are not infinite if all that is really in them could be wakened from slumber, "know thyself" would mean "know the universe." Now, there are people who, without being able to say why, are often inspired by this power which intuitively divines or guesses without revealing the process to common sense. They look into the eye of a person—something in glances and tones, gestures, mien, and address, suggests at once an assertion or a prediction which proves to be true. Considering that the dream-power has millions of experiences or images at its command, that it flits over them all like lightning, that it can combine, abstract, compare, and deduct, that it being, so to speak, more of a thaumaturgical artist than anything else, excels waking wisdom in subtle trickery, the wonder is, not that we so often hear of marvellous, magical, inexplicable wonders, but that they are not of daily or hourly occurrence. When we think of what we might be if we could master ourselves, and call on the vast sea of knowledge which is in the brain of every one who reads these lines, to give strict reckoning of its every wave and every drop of water, and every shell, pebble, wreck, weed, or grain of sand over which it rolls, and withal master the forces which make its tides and storms, then we may comprehend that all the wonder-working power attributed to all the sorcerers of olden time was nothing compared to what we really have within us.
It is awful, it is mysterious, it is terrible to learn this tremendous truth that we are indeed within ourselves magicians gifted with infinite intellectual power-which means the ability to know and do all things. In the past men surmised the existence of this infinite memory, this power of subtle research and combination, but between them and the truth in every land and . time interposed the idea of objective spiritual or supernatural
existences whose aid or medium was necessary to attain to wisdom. Outside of us was always Somebody Else to be invoked, conciliated, met in vision or trance, united to in spiritual unity or syncope. Sometimes they hit upon some form of hypnotism or mesmerism, opiates or forced swoons and convulsions, and so extorted from the nerves and dream-power some of their secrets which were all duly attributed to the "spirits." But in the whole range of occult literature from HERMES TRISMEGISTUS down to Madame BLAVATSKY there is not a shade of a suspicion that all the absolutely authentic marvels of magic began and ended with man himself.
Least of all did any speculator yet conjecture how to set forth on the path which leads us to this wonderland. For there is a way to it, and a power to master the infinite stores of memory and render the dream-power a willing servant, if we take the pains to do it. Firstly—as may be found asserted, and I think fairly proved, in my work on "Practical Education," and in the "Memory of David Kay" (London, 1888)—every child by a very easy gradual process, simply that of learning by heart, and reviewing, can develope its memory to such a degree that all which that child reads, hears, or sees can be literally retained for life. Secondly, quickness of perception, which is allied to memory, can be taught so as to develope intuitive observation and intelligence to an equally incredible extent. Thirdly—and for this I have had abundant personal experience—every child can learn Design and the Minor Arts or develope the Constructive faculties, and by doing this alone a pupil becomes exceptionally clever in all studies. The proof of this is that the 200 pupils who attended an industrial or art school in Philadelphia took precedence in studies among 110,000 others in the public schools.
If all the stores of our memory were distinctly cognized by our waking will when they first came into our possession, we should have the first great element of power beyond all our present dreams of greatness. That this can be done has been recognized by many of the most advanced thinkers of the day. If a child be trained to exercise quickness of perception
so that at last it observes and remembers everything—and experiment has proved this also—it will make the Dream Power a waking power absolutely in harmony and accordance with waking wisdom or conscious will. For the reason why the capricious, wild, strange fitful faculty has always remained foreign to us, is because in all our culture we have never sought to subdue and train the powers allied to it. Catch and tame one water-fairy, says the Red Indian legend, and you may get all her sisters. Waking quickness of perception is a wonderful ability. It can be trained to flit like lightning over illimitable fields of thought (supplied by a vast memory), and with them it spontaneously developes comparison and deduction. Now all of this is marvellously akin to the habitual action of the dream power plus that of reflection. And it is not possible to conceive that with waking quickness of perception, or voluntary subtlety of thought, cultivated in infancy to the highest power, its twin which sports in sleep should not feel its influence and act under it.
The result of this culture would inevitably be that the marvels, mysteries, and magic as they seem to us of the dream, or intuitive power, would be perfectly under our waking control, or to such an extent that we could secure all that is profitable in them. It is a very curious fact that while Reflection or Waking Wisdom slumbers, Quickness of Perception or Perception and Association seem to be always awake—in dreams or waking. A very extended series of observations has convinced me that the acquisition of a very great degree of Observation itself, or of Attention, is as possible as to learn French, and no harder; yet as a branch of study it literally does not exist. As a writer in the New York Tribune remarks: "In fact, observation is almost an atrophied faculty, and when a writer practises it for the purposes of his art, we regard the matter as in some sense wonderful." Interest, as MAUDSLEY has shown, is a natural result of Attention, and the two generate Will. Whether we can actually control the Dream-power is not as yet proved by experiment. All that we can say is that it is probable. But that this power manifests itself in
waking hours when it submits to Reflection, is an established fact. It shows itself in all imagination, in all originality, brave art or "fantasy." Therefore it is no extravagant deduction to conclude that all of its action which now seems so wonderful, and which has furnished the ground-work for what we call magic, is perfectly within our grasp, and may be secured by simple methods of training which require only perseverance to perfect them.
The gypsy fortune-teller is accustomed for years to look keenly and earnestly into the eyes of those whom she dukkers or "fortune-tells." She is accustomed to make ignorant and credulous or imaginative girls feel that her mysterious insight penetrates "with a power and with a sign" to their very souls. As she looks into their palms, and still more keenly into their eyes, while conversing volubly with perfect self-possession, ere long she observes that she has made a hit—has chanced upon some true passage or relation to the girl's life. This emboldens her. Unconsciously the Dream Spirit, or the Alter-Ego, is awakened. It calls forth from the hidden stores of Memory strange facts and associations, and with it arises the latent and often unconscious quickness of Perception, and the gypsy actually apprehends and utters things which are "wonderful." There is no clairvoyance, illumination or witchcraft in such cases. If such powers existed as they are generally understood to do, we should for one case of curious prediction hear of twenty thousand. But the Dream-power is at best fitful, irregular and fantastic in its action; it is at all times untrustworthy, for it has never been trained unless of yore by Chaldæan priests and magi. In some wonderful way facts do, however, manifest themselves, evoked out of the unknown by "occult," though purely material, mental faculties; and the result is that wonder at the inexplicable—which makes miracles—until we are accustomed to them.
That gypsy women often do surmise or arrive at very curious and startling truths I know by my own experience, and also know that I myself when reading character in people's hands according to the laws
laid down in books on chiromancy, when I have felt deeply interested, or as one may say excited or inspired, and have gone a little beyond mere description into conjecture and deduction, have been amazed at my own successes. It happened once that when in company with several ladies it was proposed after lunch to go to a gypsy camp on the Thames, and have fortunes told. Among these ladies was one of a very imaginative temperament, who had not only lived many years in the East, but had resided several winters as a guest in Arab families. As she was very much disappointed at not finding the gypsies, I offered to tell her fortune by onomancy, i.e., by taking the letters of her name according to numbers, and deducing from them her past and future. This I did in a most reckless manner, freely setting down whatever came into my mind. It seems to me now that a kind of inspiration suggested what I wrote and predicted. What was my amazement to hear the lady declare that all which had been written as to her past life was literally true, and I saw that she was simply awed at my supposed power of prediction, and had the fullest faith in what I had declared as regarded the future. What I had intended for a jest or mere entertainment turned out to be serious enough. And reflecting on the evil consequences of such belief on a person who naturally attributed it all to magic, I deeply regretted what I had done, and have not since attempted any renewal of such oracle-work. It had previously occurred that I wrote out such a prediction for another lady which I did not clearly explain to her, but in which there was a regular recurrence and repetition of something unfortunate. This was shown in after years, and the troubles all came to pass as I had written. Now the more I studied this case the more I was convinced that it was based on unconscious observation, comparison, and deduction. FICHTE has said that no bird can fly beyond itself, but the mind sometimes does actually precede its own conscious reasoning and throw back facts to it.
It may be urged by those who still cling to the old-fashioned fetish of a distinction between Spirit and Matter, that this explanation of predictions,
oracles, and insight, is simply materialistic and utterly destructive of all the poetry, grandeur, and beauty which is associated with mysterious divination. But for those who believe with MAUDSLEY, et sui generis, that all such distinctions are not seriously worth considering, and to him who can rise to the great philosophy now dawning on the world, there is perceptible in it something far more wonderful and poetical, beautiful and even awful, than ever was known to any occultist of old—for it is scientific and true. It is also true that man can now talk across the world and hear all sounds conveyed to him through the depths of ocean. He can catch these sounds and keep them for centuries. How long will it be before sights, scents, and tastes will be thus transferred, and the man sitting in London will see all things passing in Asia, or wherever it pleases him or an agent to turn a mirror on a view? It will be. 1 Or how long before the discovery of cheap and perfect aerial navigation will change all society and annihilate national distinctions? That, too, will be. These and a thousand stranger discoveries will during the ensuing century burst upon the world, changing it utterly. We go on as of old in our little petty narrow grooves, declaring that this will be, and that will never come to pass, and that this or that kind of hop-scotch lines, and tip-cat and marbles rules, are the eternal laws of humanity, and lo! all the while in his study some man whom you regard as a dreamer or dolt is preparing that which will be felt forever.
One of these great discoveries, and that not the least, will be the development and mastery of memory and perception, attention, interest, and will in children, with the constructive faculty which stimulates the whole by means of easy gradual series of instructions. When this system shall be perfected, we shall advance to understanding, controlling, and disciplining the subtler and stranger powers of the brain, which now puzzle us as dreams, intuitions, poetic inspiration, and prophecy. But this prophecy comes not from it, nor from any vague guessing or hoping. It is based on facts and on years of careful study of a thousand children's minds, and from a conviction derived
from calm observation, that the powers of the human mind are infinite and capable of being developed by science. And they will be!
There is very little knowledge among gypsies of real chiromancy, such as is set forth in the literature of occult or semi-occult science. Two centuries ago, when chiromancy was studied seriously and thoroughly by learned and wise men, the latter compared thousands of hands, and naturally enough evolved certain truths, such as you, reader, would probably evolve for yourself if you would do the same. Firstly they observed, as you may do, that the hand of a boor is not marked like that of a gentleman, nor that of an ignoramus like the palm of an artist or scholar. The line which indicates brain is on an average shorter in women than in men; in almost every instance certain signs infallibly indicate great sensuality. Others show a disposition to dreaminess, sentimentalism, the occult. Now as Love, Wisdom, Strength of Will, or Inertness, are associable with Venus, Apollo, Jupiter, or Saturn, and as astrology was then seriously believed in, it came to pass that the signs of chiromancy were distributed to the seven planets, and supposed to be under their dominion. It was an error, but after all it amounts to a mere classification. Properly considered, the names Jupiter, Saturn, Apollo, Mercury, Venus, and Mars are only synonymes of qualities, meaning masculine virtue and character, aptitude, art, cleverness, sexual passion, and .combativeness. He who would, without a trace of superstition, analyze and describe many hands compared with the characters of their owners, would adopt effectively the same arrangement.
When we remember the age in which they lived and the popular yearning for wonders and marvels which then characterized even the wisest men, the old chiromancers were singularly free from superstition. There were many among them who would have regarded with supreme contempt a DESBAROLLES, with his fortune-telling for twenty francs.
To these truly honest men, the gypsies, with their pretended chiromancy, were at first a great puzzle. The learned PRÆTORIUS, in his vast work on Chiromancy and Physiognomy, devotes seventy-five pages to this "foreign element in our midst," and comes to the conclusion that they are humbugs.
[paragraph continues] They do not know the lines—they know nothing. The intrusion of the latent powers of the mind had no place in the philosophy of PRÆTORIUS, therefore he did not perceive the back door by which the Romany slipped into the oracle. Yet there is abundant evidence even in his own valuable collection of the works of his predecessors, that many of them when tempted from merely describing character to straying into prophecy, were guided by something more mysterious than the laws of the lines of life, of the head, heart, the circle of Venus, the "hepatic," and viâ lactea. The Hungarian gypsies have a system of chiromancy of their own which the reader may find in the book "Vom Wandernden Zigeunervolke," by Dr. von WLISLOCKI, Hamburg, 1890, I had translated this and more of the kind for this chapter, but omitted it, thinking, firstly, that its place is supplied by more important matter; and, secondly, because it is, save as perhaps indicative of Indian origin, quite valueless, being merely of the prophetic kind.
I have more than once known gypsies to tell me things of my past life which were certainly remarkable, bewildering, or inexplicable. And for the ordinary seeker of "voonders oopon voonders" it is all-sufficient that a thing shall be beyond clear intelligence. "How do you explain that?" is their crucial question, and their cry of triumph when relating some case of an authentic apparition, a spiritual feat of thaumaturgy, or a dream fulfilled. In fact they would rather not have it explained. I well remember how Professor JOSEPH HENRY, when lecturing on natural science, narrated to us, his hearers, how when he told certain people how certain tricks of a common conjuror Were executed, they all protested that it could not be the way it was done. They did not wish to be disillusioned. Raise a man from the dead, make him fly through the air, and it is for everybody a miracle. Give them the power to do the same, and in a month's time it will be no longer miraculous, but something "in the due course of nature." And what single fact is there in the due course of nature which is not as inexplicable if we seek for a full explanation of it? Consider this thing every day till you ate penetrated with it, bear it in mind constantly, and in due time all, phenomena will be miracles. We can apparently get a little
nearer to the causes and give our discoveries names, but the primal causes as constantly recede and are continually buried in deeper mystery. But with most people names pass for explanations.
"Can you tell me what a hypothesis is?" asked a young gentleman at a dinner party of a friend who passed for being well-informed. "Hush," was the reply. "Not now—ladies present."
"Mon caporal," asked a French soldier, "can you tell me what is meant by an equilateral?" "Certainly—mais d'abord—do you know Hebrew?" "No." "Ah, then it would be impossible to explain it to you."
"What is it that makes people's heads ache?" inquired an old lady of a youth who had just begun his medical studies. "Oh, it is only the convolution of the anomalies of the ellipsoid," replied the student. "just see now what it is to git larnin!" commented the dame. "He knows it all in a straight line?"
The one is satisfied that a hypothesis is something improper, the other that an equilateral is a matter which he might understand if he were as learned as his corporal, and the third is pleased to find that the mystery has at least a name. And human beings are satisfied in the same way as to the mysteries of Nature. Give them a name and assure them that the learned understand it, and they are satisfied.
It is a fundamental principle of human folly to assume that any alleged marvel is a "violation of the laws of Nature," or the work of supernatural influences, until it is proved not to be such. Nature cannot be violated. She is ever virgin. And "how do you account for that?" is always assumed to be a test question. It cannot be denied that in almost every case, the narrator assumes the absolute truth of all which he states, when, as is well known, even in the most commonplace incidents of ordinary life, such truth can very rarely be obtained. Secondly, he assumes that all the persons who were cognizant of the miracle, or were concerned in it, were not only perfectly truthful, but endowed with perfect perfections, and absolutely sound judgments. If
there is the least shadow of a possibility that one of them could have erred in the least particular, the whole must fall to the ground as a proof or test—for we must have irrefragible and complete evidence before we adopt a faith on which all our life may depend. But, thirdly, by asking any one to account for a marvel, he assumes that the one thus called on knows everything short of the supernatural or Infinite, which is simply silly.
But there is a higher source of admiration and wonder than could ever be established by vulgar fetish, Animism, or supernaturalism, and this is to be found in the mysteries of Nature which man has never penetrated, and which, as soon as they are overcome, reveal others far grander or deeper. Thus as Alps rise beyond Alps, and seas of stars and solar systems spread in proportions of compound multiplication, our powers of vision increase. And it often happens to him who looks deeply into causes, that one of the myriad test cases of so-called "supernaturalism," when it has ignominiously broken down—as all do sooner or later—often reveals a deeper marvel or mystery than it was intended to support. Thus some Red Indians in North America, on being told how certain juggling tricks which they had accepted for magic were performed, calmly replied that it did not make the least difference—that a man must have been a magician (or divinely inspired) to be able to find out such tricks. And I myself knew an Indian trader named Ross, who, being once among a wild tribe, put on a mask of papier maché, which caused tremendous excitement and awe, which was not in the least diminished when he took it off and put it into their hands and explained its nature, for they maintained that the thing which could cause such terror indicated the existence of superior mental power, or magic, in the maker. In which there is, as it seems to me, indications of a much higher wisdom or sagacity than is to be found in the vulgar spiritualist who takes the event or thing itself for the miracle, and who, when found out in his tricks, ignominiously collapses.
The conclusion from all this is, that I have seen and heard of much
in gypsy witchcraft and fortune-telling which, while it was directly allied to humbug of the shallowest kind, also rested on, or was inspired by, mental action or power which, in our present state of knowledge, must be regarded as strangely mysterious and of the deepest interest. And this is indeed weird, in the fullest and truest sense, since it is used for prophecy. I will now endeavour to illustrate this.
It is but natural that there should be "something in" gypsy fortune-telling. If the reader were to tell ten fortunes a day for twenty years it would be very remarkable indeed if in that time he had not learned some things which would seem wonderful to the world. He would detect at a glance the credulous, timid, hold, doubtful, refined or vulgar nature, just as a lawyer learns to detect character by cross-examination. Many experiments of late years have gone very far to establish the existence of a power of divining or reading thought; how this is really done I know not; perhaps the experts in it are as ignorant as I am, but it is very certain that certain minds, in some (as yet) marvellous way, betray their secrets to the master. That there are really gypsies who have a very highly cultivated faculty of reading the mind by the eye is certainly true. Sometimes they seem to be themselves uncertain, and see as through a glass darkly, and will reveal remarkable facts doubtfully. I remember a curious illustration of this. Once I was walking near Bath, and meeting a tinker asked him if there were any gypsies in the vicinity. He gave me the address of a woman who lived in a cottage at no great distance. I found it with some trouble, and was astonished on entering at the abominably miserable, reckless, squalid appearance of everything. There was a half or quarter-bred gypsy woman, ragged, dirty, and drunk, a swarm of miserable children, and a few articles of furniture misplaced or upset as if the inmates had really. no idea of how a room should be lived in. I addressed the woman civilly, but she was too vulgar and degraded to be capable of sensible or civil conversation with a superior. Such people actually exist among the worst class of vagabonds. But as I, disgusted, was about to leave, and gave her a small gratuity, she offered
to tell my fortune, which I declined, whereupon she cried, "You shall see that I know something;" and certainly told me something which astonished me, of an event which had taken place two years before at a great distance. To test her I coolly denied it all, at which she seemed astonished and bewildered, saying, "Can I have made a mistake? You are certainly the person." All of this may be explained by causes which I shall set forth. But it cannot be too earnestly insisted on to people who habitually doubt, that because a thing can be explained in a certain way (i.e., by humbug) that it necessarily follows that that is the only explanation of it. Yet this is at the present day actually and positively the popular method, and it obtains very largely indeed with the small critics of the "safe school." Mrs. Million has diamonds; she may have stolen them—a great many people have stolen diamonds—therefore she is probably a thief. The Icelandic sagas describe journies to America; but the writers of the sagas were often mythical, exaggerative, and inaccurate—therefore all they narrate as regards America must be, of course, untrue.
It is therefore credible
That tripe is edible ;
And it follows perforce,
As a matter of course,
That the devil will gripe
All who do not eat tripe.
But I do not insist that there is anything "miraculous" in gypsy fortune-telling. It may be merely the result of great practical experience and of a developed intuition, it may be mind or "thought-reading"—whatever that really is—or it may result from following certain regular rules. This latter method will be pronounced pure humbug, but of that I will speak anon. These rules followed by anybody, even the feeblest dilettante who has only read DESBAROLLES for drawing-room entertainment,
will often astonish the dupe. They are, "in few," as follows:—
1. It is safe in most cases with middle-aged men to declare that they have had a law-suit, or a great dispute as to property, which has given them a great deal of trouble. This must be impressively uttered. Emphasis and sinking the voice are of great assistance in fortune-telling. If the subject betray the least emotion, or admit it, promptly improve the occasion, express sympathy, and "work it up."
2. Declare that a great fortune, or something greatly to the advantage of the subject, or something which will gratify him, will soon come in his way, but that he must be keen to watch his opportunity and be bold and energetic.
3. He will have three great chances, or fortunes, in his life. If you know that he has inherited or made a fortune, or had a good appointment, you may say that he has already realized one of them. This seldom fails.
4. A lady of great wealth and beauty, who is of singularly sympathetic disposition, is in love with him, or ready to be, and it will depend on himself to secure his happiness. Or he will soon meet such a person when he shall least expect it.
5. "You had at one time great trouble with your relations (or friends). They treated you very unkindly." Or, "They were prepared to do so, but your resolute conduct daunted them."
6. "You have been three times in great danger of death." Pronounce this very impressively. Everybody, though it be a schoolboy believes, or likes to believe, that he has encountered perils. This is infallible, or at least it takes in most people. If the subject can be induced to relate his hairbreadth escapes, you may foretell future perils.
7. "You have had an enemy who has caused you great trouble. But he—or she—it is well not to specify which till you find out the sex—will ere long go too far, and his or her effort to injure you will recoil on him or her." Or, briefly, "It is written that some one, by trying to wrong you, will incur terrible retribution." Or, "You have had enemies, but they are all destined to come to grief." Or, "You had an enemy but you outlived him."
8. "You got yourself once into great trouble by doing a good act."
9. "Your passions have thrice got you into great trouble. Once your inconsiderate anger (or pursuit of pleasure) involved you in great suffering which, in the end, was to your advantage." Or else, "This will come to pass; therefore be on your guard."
10. "You will soon meet with a person who will have a great influence on your future life if you cultivate his friendship. You will ere long meet some one who will fall in love with you, if encouraged."
11. "You will find something very valuable if you keep your eyes open and watch closely. You have twice passed over a treasure and missed it, but you will have a third opportunity."
12. "You have done a great deal of good, or made the fortune or prosperity of persons who have been very ungrateful."
13. "You have been involved in several love affairs, but your conduct in all was really perfectly blameless."
14. "You have great capacity for something, and before long an occasion will present itself for you to exert it to your advantage."
By putting these points adroitly, and varying or combining them, startling cases of conviction may be made. Yet even into this deception will glide intuition, or the inexplicable insight to character, and the deceiver himself be led to marvel, so true is it that he who flies from Brama goes towards him, let him do what he will, for Truth is everywhere, and even lies lead to it.
The reader has often seen in London Italian women who have small birds, generally parrakeets, or paraquitos, which will for a penny pick out for her or for him slips of paper on which is printed a "fortune." If he will invest his pence in these he will in most instances find that they "fit his case" exactly, because they are framed on these or other rules, which are of very general application. There was, in 1882, an Italian named TORICELLI. Whether he was a descendant of the great natural philosopher of the same name who discovered the law of the vacuum I do not know, but he certainly exhibited—generally in Piccadilly—an ingenious application of it. He had a long glass cylinder, filled with water, in which there was a blown glass image of an imp. By pressing his hand on the top of the cover of the tube the folletto or diavoletto was made to rise or fall—from which the prediction was drawn. It will hardly be believed, but the unfortunate TORICELLI was actually arrested by the police and punished for "fortune-telling." 1 After this he took to trained canaries or parrakeets, which picked out printed fortunes, for a living. Whether the stern arm of British justice descended on him for this latter form of sorcery and crime I do not know.
"Forse fu dal demonio trasportato,
Fiancheggiandosi del' autorita
Di Origene o di San Girolamo."
Now it may be admitted that to form such rules (and there are many more far more ingenious and generally applicable) and to put them into practice with tact, adapting them to intuitions of character, not only as seen in the face but as heard in the voice or betrayed by gestures and dress and manner, must in the end develop a power. And, further still, this power by frequent practice enables its possessor to perform feats which are really marvellous and perhaps inexplicable, as yet, to men of science. I have, I think, indicated the road by which they travel to produce this result, but to what they arrived I do not know.
Nor do they all get there. What genius is, physiology, with all the vast flood of light spread by FRANCIS GALTON on hereditary gifts, cannot as yet explain. It is an absolute thing of itself, and a "miracle." Sometimes this wonderful power of prediction and of reading thought and quickly finding and applying rules falls into the hands of a genius. Then all our explanations of "humbug" and "trickery" and juggling fall to the ground, because he or she works what are absolutely as much miracles as if the artist had raised the dead. Such geniuses are the prophets of old; sometimes they are poets. There are as many clearly-defined and admirable predictions as to events in art and politics in the works of HEINE, which were fulfilled, as can be found anywhere.
By the constant application of such rules, promptly and aptly, or boldly, the fortune-teller acquires a very singular quickness of perception. There are very few persons living who really know what this means and to what apparently marvellous results constant practice in it may lead. Beginning with very simple and merely mechanical exercises ("Practical Education," p. 151. London: Whittaker & Co.), perception may be gradually developed until not only the eye and ear observe a thousand things which escape ordinary observation, and also many "images" at once, but finally the mind notes innumerable traits of character which would have once escaped it, combines these, and in a second draws conclusions which would amuse those who are ignorant—as indeed all men are as yet-of the extraordinary faculties latent in every man.
I beg the reader to pay special attention to this fact. There is nothing in all the annals of prophecy, divination, fortune-telling, or prediction, which is nearly so wonderful as what we may all do if we would by practice and exercise bring out of ourselves our own innate power of perception. This is not an assertion based on metaphysical theory; it is founded on fact, and is in strict accordance with the soundest conclusions of modern physiology. By means of it, joined to exercises in memorizing, all that there is in a child of ordinary intellect may be unerringly drawn out; and when in due time knowledge or information is gradually adduced, there is perhaps no limit to what that intellect may become. The study, therefore, of quickness of perception, as set forth or exercised in gypsy fortune-telling, is indeed curious; but to the far-reaching observer who is interested in education it is infinitely more useful, for it furnishes proof of the ability latent in every mind to perform what appear to be more than feats of intelligence or miracles, yet which often are all mere trifles compared to what man could effect if he were properly trained to it.
Sorcery! We are all sorcerers, and live in a wonderland of marvel and beauty if we did but know it. For the seed sprouting from the ground is as strange a truth as though we saw the hosts of heaven sweeping onward in glory, or could commune with fairies, or raise from his grave the master magician of song who laid a curse on all who should dig his dust. But like children who go to sleep in the grand opera, and are wild with delight at Punch, we turn aside from the endless miracle of nature to be charmed and bewildered with the petty thaumaturgy of guitars in the dark, cigarettes, and rope-tying, because it corresponds to and is miracle enough for us. And perhaps it is as well; for much thought on the Infinites made JEAN PAUL RICHTER and THOMAS CARLYLE half mad and almost unfit for common life. Seek truth in Science and we shall be well balanced in the little as well as the great.
166:1 Vide "Drawing and Designing." London: Whittaker & Co., 1888.
175:1 This was written long before I heard that the same idea had occurred to others.
183:1 Another Italian was fined or imprisoned for the same thing in London in July, 1890—i.e., for telling penny fortunes by the same machine.